Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Does Italy lack culinary relevance?


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

I could find this out by reading back through the whole thread painstakingly, but here it is: Was there ever a discussion that arrived at the notion that "modern gastronomy" and "haute cuisine" are inextricable or did everyone just take it as fact?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Was there ever a discussion that arrived at the notion that "modern gastronomy" and "haute cuisine" are inextricable or did everyone just take it as fact?

There wasn't but even if you compare the amount of attention Italian cuisine gets compared to cuisines that don't qualify as haute cuisine you will reach the same conclusion. The trendsetters come from Spain, the U.S., Australia and Japan. Whether the way you define the cuisine that comes from those places as haute cuisine ir not, they all have chefs who get lots of attention and Italian cuisine does not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmmm. Except that opera is not inherently more serious than rock and roll. Oh, just ignore me.

If you asked 1000 children why they don't like opera, I guarantee you that a majority of them will say that it is too serious. And even if they do not use those exact words, and they point to how people sing, or what the themes are about (both musically and storywise) you will reach the conclusion that they mean too serious. In fact almost all music without a backbeat is considered to be serious music by the public. Of course this definition falls outside of any discussion about the actual definition of the word "serious" as held by pedantic existentialists on Internet forums.

what does "relevant" mean?) on this thread

Schaem - Do you spend a lot of time tracking down cookbooks from current Italian chefs who have Michelin stars? Do you travel out of your way to go to their restaurants the same way you would travel to go to Pierre Gagnaire? Are you or your chef inspired by recipes by today's Italian chefs?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

SteveP, I thought your musical exposition to Gavin was lucid and precise. Effectively, that suggests that LloydWebberesque songs reside isomewhere along the continuum between opera and pop, blending elements of both and adding some innovative elements of its own, and appealing to a new constituency of those who like neither opera nor pop, plus some from the borders of each of those.

Now isn't that what Italian cuisine is ? If haute cuisine is opera, and basse cuisine (or "peasant" or "bistro" food) is pop music, then is not Italian cuisine Lloyd Webber ?

If so, then that is the relevance of Italian cuisine. It represents enough of haute cuisine to a much larger market to make its impact important on the development of that cuisine by chefs, it represents enough of basse cuisine to a more discerning market to make a similar impact on that cuisine. So maybe it acts as a bridge between the elite and the mass market, and that would surely give it an important place in the culinary world.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Steve P., I find myself agreeing with you on this particular subject. If relevenece means currently influential, then Italian cuisine is not. It has relevance. Or has had relevence. But no, I do not track down cookbooks from current Italian chefs because it seems to me their interest is in preserving a very valuable tradition; and since that tradition is largely ingrained in the French/ New American tradition in which I work, anything current in Italy is "irrelevant." However, I would hate to see the day when the upholders of tradition vanish from the face of the earth and the old ways are ignored and forgotten.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Macrosan - Actually it suggests that Lloyd Weber expanded musical theater to include aspects of opera. Other composers like Rodgers and Hammerstein were closer to operetta then real opera. He (and his co-writers) even chose certain themes that were grander in nature then themes that are typical of the musical theater (Jesus Christ Superstar& Phantom.) But clearly his millieu is musical theater. Sweeny Todd if you know the show is more like opera then anything Lloyd Weber wrote (don't ask me why because the answer is too technical for me to explain.) The Most Happy Fellow by Frank Loesser is another show that is written like an opera. As to your other point, well you are correct when you say that the low cuisine is included in the haute cuisine. To practice either one, you have to roast mushrooms. It's what you do with them after they are roasted that makes them different. That givs me an idea for a new thread which maybe explores this point through actual cooking technique.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is an Italian restaurant near where I live. It is basically an upmarket trat. with pizza and pasta and some extras and specials and salads etc. There are dozens of places serving similar food in London. It is not cheap,but it is always packed to the gunwhales. It is mobbed out every night.

Slam next door is a brilliant Thai restaurant which is always half empty.

It seems to me that in London Italian food is "safe food". It is familiar and predictable. People feel relaxed with it. It is not challenging or demanding or cerebral or emotional. It's more like a familiar family member or an old mate. Some Italian restaurants are pushing boundaries but when people say they "fancy an Italian"(meal,that is) the're not really talking about Locatelli or the River Cafe because the experience of going to those places is more of a haut cuisine experience. They're talking about the trattoria down the road,tarted up with art on the walls for the local yuppies,but a trattoria nonetheless.

They feel at home there in a way they never would in a French restaurant . What this says about "relevance" I'm not sure but it would take a brave resterateur to tamper with a formula that has turned their restaurants into cash cows.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Macrosan - Actually it suggests that Lloyd Weber expanded musical theater to include aspects of opera. Other composers like Rodgers and Hammerstein were closer to operetta then real opera. He (and his co-writers) even chose certain themes that were grander in nature then  themes that are typical of the musical theater (Jesus Christ Superstar& Phantom.) But clearly his millieu is musical theater. Sweeny Todd if you know the show is more like opera then anything Lloyd Weber wrote (don't ask me why because the answer is too technical for me to explain.) The Most Happy Fellow by Frank Loesser is another show that is written like an opera. As to your other point, well you are correct when you say that the low cuisine is included in the haute cuisine. To practice either one, you have to roast mushrooms. It's what you do with them after they are roasted that makes them different. That givs me an idea for a new thread which maybe explores this point through actual cooking technique.

I prefer Frank Zappa's oratorios.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I read this entire thread. Then I made a plate of spaghetti aglio/olio. While I was eating it, I wondered why Chinese cuisine isn't relevant to Mexican cuisine. Or, maybe it is. I wondered why both of them, jointly or severally, are or are not relevant to a Francocentric view of cuisine. Then I thought, Fat Guy should write a book on comparative gastronomy while teaching a seminar on the subject at Columbia. Then I watched a rerun of Kenneth Clark's lecture on the Romanesque.

I had the best espresso, and therefore the best cup of coffee, I have ever had outside of Italy, on the main street of Calistoga, California last week. It seems that a Venetian man has taught his daughter something outside of time and place, and fitted it with utter incongruity into the streetscape of this odd town.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter - If you read the original posting by FG you will see that this topic isn't about why Italian food isn't any good (which it is), but why it isn't relevant to Modern (i.e. Francocentric) dining.

Not everybody who has made a contribution to this thread is a sycophant or eats in Michelin starred restaurants and if that is all you have to say about people that have made a contribution to what has been, in part, an interesting thread then don't bother again in the future.

Better still, rather then banging on about how most people don't know about real Italian food as cooked in Italy at inappropriate times, start you own thread on the topic. I also spend time in Italy regularly with relatives, so I would be interested in a coherent discussion on the topic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter - Regardless of how one likes the food in the Piemonte (I think it is good but overrated,) it is so irrelevent to the world of cooks and other people who follow cuisine on that level that there wasn't even a proper cookbook written about the region until about 3 years ago. Even now after it has been written, fondutas aren't turning up on tables around the rest of the world like souffles are.

Adam - It's not only Francocentric. Cooking from other places around the globe are relevent too and are influencing chefs. Thai cuisine, Japanese, South American to name a few. And Italian cooking influences these people too, but it's all the old tricks. Nothing new has come out of Italy in uite some time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Peter - Regardless of how one likes the food in the Piemonte (I think it is good but overrated,) it is so irrelevent to the world of cooks and other people who follow cuisine on that level that there wasn't even a proper cookbook written about the region until about 3 years ago. Even now after it has been written, fondutas aren't turning up on tables around the rest of the world like souffles are.

Adam - It's not only Francocentric. Cooking from other places around the globe are relevent too and are influencing chefs. Thai cuisine, Japanese, South American to name a few. And Italian cooking influences these people too, but it's all the old tricks. Nothing new has come out of Italy in uite some time.

Steve - I was making a generalization to make a point to Peter. You know about generalizations right? :biggrin:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

fondutas aren't turning up on tables around the rest of the world like souffles are.

Fondutas may not be but polenta certainly is. It's been on the menu in some form in several non-Italian restaurants I've been to recently-mainly of the 'Modern European' type.

Also risotto is turning up in unexpected places and in different forms as an accompaniment rather than as a course in itself.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well Peter would observe it isn't real italian polenta.

Therefore it must be French (or possibly German) polenta that is turning up on those menus.

Though come to think of it one sees numerous non-coffee based products described as cappucino. Most confusing.

Wilma squawks no more

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All I have ever really said is that Italian food as cooked in Italy is by far my favourite food. Going out on a Sunday afternoon and eating for 5 hours is something that I really treasure and I believe that others would too if they only knew what they were missing.

In regards to Steve not liking Piemontese food, that his perogative and, in return, I'm pretty sure that I would not appreciate his style of dining.

It seems to be that quite a few of you are extremely sanctimonious (and, Adam, please do not tell me not to post, that's out-of-order, you soun d like an American as they love telling you how free it is in America and then introduce restrictions that no other country has!).

In regards to Polenta that is funny. First of all you just don't get Polenta in a genuine Italian restaurant, it's reserved for mountain or country trattorias or Osterias. The Italians find it amusing that Polenta is a fashionable dish outside of Italy (they find it even more amusing when they find out that some chefs serve it 'fancied up' - to them it's like fancying up porridge - come to think of it that's exactly what it is!).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Steve P., what do you think Edward Behr meant when he wrote these two comments in "The Art of Eating" # 61; pgs. 18 and 19, respectively:

I was glad to eat Heston Blumenthal's food, and I admire his talent. More than a handful of other chefs, notably in Spain and Italy, also pursue highly innovative cooking.

Even the most experimental French and Italian chefs that I know of refer to tradition in their cooking. They take a familiar dish and racically reinterpret it. They retain certain sauces. They repeat certain established highly successful combinations of flavors.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In an effort to be faithful to the FG's original question, I would answer yes and no. (It's almost impossible for a lover of things Italian not to be sarcastic on this subject.)

Yes, it is relevant because it provides a monumental, inspirational, yet simple tradition upon which to draw. The Alice Waters "revolution", and any "ingredients-based" cuisine (see the FG's review of Citarella in his newletter, for example, or recent comments about Ducasse's insistence on the best raw materials), are based on what the Italians would call living their everyday lives.

No, because the regional nature of Italian cooking tends to keep things local, even insular. No, because Italy is generally not an affluent country and dining out is more a local, casual experience, with much less emphasis on internationally competitive alta cucina. And no because the Italians are not, to be polite about it, motivated in meaningful ways to absorb elements of French culture, including restaurant and cooking style.

I've said before that the fact that there isn't much new (I'm sure there are some things new; others would know this better than I) in Italian cuisine doesn't really concern them very much. If anyone is really interested in why, I would recommend as a starter "The Italians" by Luigi Barzini.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All I have ever really said is that Italian food as cooked in Italy is by far my favourite food.  Going out on a Sunday afternoon and eating for 5 hours is something that I really treasure and I believe that others would too if they only knew what they were missing.

In regards to Steve not liking Piemontese food, that his perogative and, in return,  I'm pretty sure that I would not  appreciate his style of dining.

It seems to be that quite a few of you are extremely sanctimonious (and, Adam, please do not tell me not to post, that's out-of-order, you soun d like an American as they love telling you how free it is in America and then introduce restrictions that no other country has!).

In regards to Polenta that is funny.  First of all you just don't get Polenta in a genuine Italian restaurant, it's reserved for mountain  or country trattorias or Osterias.  The Italians find it amusing that Polenta is a fashionable dish outside of Italy (they find it even more amusing when they find out that some chefs serve it 'fancied up' - to them it's like fancying up porridge - come to think of it that's exactly what it is!).

Peter - Yes I realise that Italian food that is your favorite type of food and you wish to share that experience with other people. That has never been an issue and the desire to share your experiences and knowledge is worthy and good. Italian food as served in Italy happens to be my favourite food as well. The point being though, that it is possible to discuss food in Italy or Italian food on various levels without constantly refering to this, as it is not always relevant. As I politely suggested start a new thread or are you afraid of critique?

For the record, I am Australian, not American. Not that a persons race or country of origin should matter. Any sanctimonity I may have expressed is not to do with my nationality. Making these types of generalisations about individuals based on perceived nationality just make you look foolish and uninformed.

Finally, if we were to treat you by the same standards that you have been using, do you not think that you would be sneered out for making generalisations about what Italians think? Shall be say "oh, you obviously don't know anything about the real Italy as what would a Neopolitin care about polenta? Are they not Italian?". If you are going to be so judgemental about other peoples comments (without really understanding them) look to your own statements first. Otherwise, you really do end up looking like another damaged person who likes shout out their own views on the internet without any though of actuallu interacting with other people.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Italians find it amusing that Polenta is a fashionable dish outside of Italy (they find it even more amusing when they find out that some chefs serve it 'fancied up' - to them it's like fancying up porridge - come to think of it that's exactly what it is!).

Thanks for reaffirming that in case we'd forgotten it since last time you said it.

Besides, lots of dishes are plain dishes "fancied up". Why pay good money for The Ivy's burger when you can get a burger at McDonalds? Why pay good money for fish at Sheekey's when you can get it at your local chippie? Why pay good money for truffled gnocci at Locatelli (don't start) when you can get cheap, ready-in-5-minutes gnocci at Sainsbury's? (Apologies to non-London people for the London-centric references).

A lot of people on this thread have cited those conservative attitudes to preparing food as the reason that they believe that current Italian cooking does not have much relevance to modern gastronomy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Alice Waters "revolution", and any "ingredients-based" cuisine (see the FG's review of Citarella in his newletter, for example, or recent comments about Ducasse's insistence on the best raw materials), are based on what the Italians would call living their everyday lives.

This is what Rogers and Gray tried(and still do) to replicate at The River Cafe in London. Sourcing the beat ingredients and serving them simply was in fact groundbreaking stuff in terms of upscale restaurants where people's expectation is of very worked and transformed food. Suddenly people were paying top prices for considered simplicity and rusticity. The restaurant caused massive controversy (is it worth it?) but it gave the London restaurant consumer a new lens through which to view Italian cuisine and they embraced what they saw by buying the cookbooks in their millions. Suddenly people began to think if I can only get the ingredients I can cook meals just like they serve in a very expensive restaurant.

In that way Italian cuisine cretaes a connection between home and restaurant that is the antithesis of everything a top French restaurant tries to do.And maybe within that very antithesis lies its "relevance".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...